An Iranian fashion label organised a private show in the high-end salon Ayneh Divan on March 1 in Lavasan, an affluent suburb of Tehran, sending women down the runway without hijabs, a violation of the country’s strict laws mandating that women appear in public with headscarves. Some were also arrayed in elaborate, fantasy-inspired outfits, which, while not a justifiable crime, is nevertheless seen as promoting a Western lifestyle and not tolerated by conservatives.
Videos of the show appeared immediately on Instagram and Telegram, but it wasn’t until the following day that news outlets and the judiciary system began paying attention, generating further buzz online.
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"All the media in Iran are talking about the brand"
Nârin (not her real name) is one of the event organisers and prefers to remain anonymous:
Importing foreign clothing into Iran has been banned since May 2018. Given the absence of international labels, numerous local brands are competing for a share of the Iranian market.
This fashion show in Lavasan was part of an advertising campaign for Rama, an emerging Iranian clothing label.
It was an invitation-only event. The audience included celebrities, footballers and actors. All the clothes were women’s dresses and we had everything but underwear and shoes.
Well, the waitresses and organisers didn’t have hijabs, and many of the guests felt free to take off their scarves too. It was a private event and we did as we always do in our private parties. It was not even an issue for anyone there.
The “weird” dresses you see in the videos are women who dressed up for a performance actually. They’re not clothes from the collection.
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"Sponsors aren’t scared of police anymore"
Events like this are no longer uncommon in Tehran, according to Reza Gheibi, an Iranian journalist who covers fashion:
We have no available statistics, but as far as l know, in the first and third districts of Tehran, where there are lots of fashion shops, there are between five and ten fashion shows each day.
There are so many fashion shows in Tehran that it has become impossible for the police to control everything, so brands and sponsors aren’t scared of police or judicial prosecution anymore .
We should not be naïve. If the system decides to prosecute people involved in this lucrative business in Iran, it would not be difficult for them to do that. At the end of the day, it is a political decision to let them continue working. It’s about the thousands of direct and indirect jobs involved. The social situation is volatile enough that the government does not want to aggravate the situation either.
Tehran police chief Sardar Hossein Rahimi told the media that the salon where the event was held would be closed until further notice. Officials also said the label would be prosecuted in a court.
The Friday prayers imam in Lavasan [Editor’s note: Ali Khamenei Iran’s Supreme Leader directly appoints an imam for each city in Iran] called the event a “poisonous mushroom” on Twitter.
Getting free ad on the media
Nârin, our Observer in Tehran, noted that the label’s organisers were counting on the publicity that their show would generate:
The main reason behind the media buzz around this event is that it was a very big and flamboyant show. Then the police intervention sparked media coverage, and all of this happened because of the leaked footage.
Officially, we asked everyone not to take pictures of the event, but the main organiser, who owns the clothing brand, picked a few people and encouraged them to take photos and publish them or even go live on Instagram. He intentionally wanted to have some photos and videos of this event published.
The organisers knew there would be a reaction from the police, they knew that there would be sanctions, but they did not care. They planned on creating a media buzz and generating free publicity all over Iran, and they succeeded. The media in Iran as well as international Persian-language media, are talking about the brand and the salon too.
They calculated that several days of store closure and millions of tomans in fines were equivalent to the price of an ad campaign, but they never would have gotten the coverage without what happened. Even BBC Persian talked about them.
After images of the show leaked on the social media, the salon's name was searched and mentioned many times on Google.
Iran’s clothing industry is valued annually at 40 billion tomans, or around 2.7 million euros. Around 70 percent is generated locally and the remaining amount mostly enters the country illegally.
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This article was written by Ershad Alijani.